Final Thoughts

Sassafras Gap

I don’t have a lot to add to Pilgrim’s post from last night. The weather was obviously nasty and most smart hikers had found their way down off the mountain as evidenced by the large number of hikers we encountered at the Fontana Dam Lodge.

Just a few notes to add:
* Our original shuttle driver that was hired to take us from the bottom of the mountain to Fontana had to bail on us as he was called out to a “hiker rescue” in Tennessee. Not sure what that meant but it didn’t sound good.

* About halfway down the mountain I suddenly was aware of someone yelling up the trail behind me. As the person got closer I realized the yelling was an unending string of expletives!! @#$%^&*!  I slowed down and once the hiker saw me he stopped and apologized. He stated that this was his “therapy”.  Obviously, someone wasn’t having the hike they had planned.

* Lee proceeded me down to the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain by about 30 seconds.  At the bottom were three different carloads of folks who were taking pictures of the AT signs at the side of the road.  Once they spotted Lee they asked if he had actually hiked down from the top in the snow. (!)  Lee said “yes” and they asked to take his picture! After taking Lee’s picture they asked to take mine. Oh, the darn paparazzi :).

Smile!

*At that same trailhead take a look at the picture of Lee and me. Lee appears to be smiling, but actually his face was frozen in that position. It took us an hour to get Lee unfrozen. (Just kidding Lee :).

Time to head home.  Maybe the fall will present an opportunity to come back in decent weather and “clean up” the parts we skipped. When talking to my wife Sherry about the hike she asked if Lee had any weather issues last year when he hiked the complete section between Springer Mountain and Fontana Dam. I said, “no, only the one night with me on Blood Mountain”.  She then asked if I saw the pattern here.  I think she has a point.

Until the next time,
SlimTim

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There’s No Fooling Mother Nature

Yes, that is my tent underneath the snow!

We arrived at Sassafras Gap shelter mile 143.7 at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, March 13. It started raining shortly after we got our tents set up and dinner finished. Rain turned to sleet pretty quickly and then to snow all night long and into the next day. It was another restless night of little sleep for me, but I was warm and comfortable in my sleeping bag and tent. This was partially due to the fact that I bought a sleeping bag liner at Nantahala Outdoor Center. The liner for the sleeping bag gave me an additional 20° protection. With this additional protection, my sleeping bag is good to 10°.  Trying to eat my oatmeal this morning standing in 3″ of with snow and more still coming down was no fun. 😦

We had skipped Dick’s Gap (mile 69.3) to Winding Stair Gap (mile 109.5) and Winding Stair Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center (mile 137.1) for a total of 67.8 miles in order to outrun the weather!

Instead, we learned the hard lesson that you cannot out smart or out hike Mother Nature. This was a significant snowstorm and the weather forecast isn’t any better for the rest of the week. So after spending the night in the snow and hiking all day Tuesday in the snow, SlimTim and I decided to end our hike at Stecoah Gap, mile 150.5.  Because of other obligations, we needed to finish our hike before the 23rd of March. By the time the cold weather and aftermath of melting snow clears it will be too late complete the hike as we planned, from Unicoi Gap to Fontana Dam.

End of the trail … at least for this time around!

I realize that we cannot control the weather and we erred by thinking that we would have 10 to 12 days of clear weather to accomplish this hike.  When this picture was taken we were both very cold, hungry and weary!  But on a sunny note, it was nice to team up with my buddy SlimTim through two more snow storms and to get a few more miles on the A T!

SlimTim and I will meet up this summer when we join my brothers-in-law and our cousins Alan and Beth for a corvette trip through the Wisconsin Dells. No sleeping bags allowed and here’s hoping there’s no snow in July!

Happy Trails,
Pilgrim

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Saved By Our Friends!

Nantahala National Forest

Nantahala Outdoor Center Mile 137.1     Left at 1:00 p.m. today and arrived Sassafras Gap Mile 143.7 at 6:00 p.m.

SlimTim gives a good explanation of our dilemma today in his post here.  Who knew hiking the AT could and would involve so many folks?  I want to begin by thanking our good friends Jim and Naomi Davis.  Especially, Naomi, for letting Jim off of vacuuming duty so that he could shuttle us from Hiawassee, Georgia to Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina.

Before I left on the hike both Jim and Naomi said, “Our Georgia home is close to the trail, let us know if you need anything.”  Did they really mean for me to call at 8 a.m. this morning asking to take up their day with transporting a couple of would-be adventurers like us?   We couldn’t have kept hiking with the weather moving in without their support. Blessings to both of you!

Actually, I also want to thank my dear wife Catherine for all the logistical work that she did at home this morning.  Brainstorming with her was invaluable in helping us to come to a decision on what our next step was to be.

SlimTim Walking the Bridge to Hit The Trail from the Nantahala Outdoor Center

Pilgrim, March 8, 2016 Walking The Bridge to the Trail

Last year when I walked across this bridge the weather was much different.  I think it was about 60 degrees!  Definitely, no coat, no gloves!

SlimTim took this picture from our AT Hiker app.  The hike today was definitely as difficult as I remembered it to be from last year.  But with SlimTim with me it was far more enjoyable.  Our current elevation is 4329′ from a start of 1727′ at NOC.

The next two days have a rain/freezing sleet/snow forecast and so I don’t know how much weather we have skirted, but our goal is to be at Fontana Dam on Wednesday before the really cold weather hits.

We haven’t made a decision yet whether we will return and hike the two sections that we missed between Dick’s Creek Gap and NOC. We will keep you posted as soon as we’ve made a decision.

Good night From The Top of the Mountain,
Pilgrim

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Dilemma Time

 

Nantahala Outdoor Center A New Hike Begins

After reaching Dick’s Gap last night we were faced with a dilemma.  The trail north of Dick’s continues for over 30 miles with no crossroad or a way to get off the mountain.  Typically that would not be a problem except for the weather forecast.  Monday showed rain and snow and lows in the teens. Tuesday’s forecast was the same.  However, Wednesday’s forecast calls for lows in the single digits with wind chills below zero.

We thought we could probably handle Monday and Tuesday but Wednesday will be dangerous on the mountain.  My sleeping bag is rated at 5 degrees but Pilgrim changed to a cooler 30-degree bag in order to sleep better than last year.  So with Catherine’s help, we came up with these possible options:

1) Go for it.
2) Take three or four days off the trail and wait for better weather.
3) Jump on the trail north at Nantahala Outdoor Center and continue as planned to Fontana skipping a significant section in the middle.

Sooo… option one was not happening.  Pilgrim and I do possess one good brain between us (75% Pilgrim and 25% SlimTim).

Option 2 did not appeal to me.  I am here to hike and I’m not crazy about waiting.
So we went with option 3.  Catherine and Pilgrim have some amazing friends who live nearby, Jim and Naomi.  A quick call to them and Jim volunteered (!) to drive up from his home in Sky Valley, Georgia and haul us up to Nantahala.  We owe Jim a huge bit of gratitude and a steak dinner at a later time.

Around noon we were back on the trail climbing up to Sassafras Gap.  The climb was steep.  Here is an elevation map of today’s hike.

We made it to the shelter about 90 minutes before dark.  We set up tents and ate.  Shortly after retiring to our sleeping bags it started raining.  It will be interesting to see what we have in the morning.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see several more inches of snow on the ground.

Time to sleep
Slim Tim

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Treacherous Trail

First steps ….

March 11, 2017
Unicoi Gap, Georgia Mile 52.9 northbound: departed approximately 8:45 a.m. on a beautiful sunny day.  Don’t let the steps in this picture fool you … they must have put them there to give hikers the false sense of “come on up, it’s easy!”

The day was good for hiking.  Little did we know what was ahead for us.

The weather started to change around 4:00 pm.  The sky clouded and the temperature dropped. By the time we reached our destination (Addis Gap mi 63.8) a light snow had begun to fall.  When we were almost finished setting up and eating supper the snow intensified and the wind had picked up. It wasn’t nearly as bad as Blood Mountain last year, but it was enough to chill me to the bone even with multiple layers of clothing.

The routine then was to get into our sleeping bags and hunker down for the night. We had a good night even though it was blowing and snowing.  I was warm and comfortable.  I didn’t sleep real well, but I did get in some good rest.  The sleep will come. (I’m praying!)

Pilgrim’s Tent In The Early Morning Light Day 2

We awoke to about 2″ (or more) of snow on everything!

DAY 2 — We had breakfast, oatmeal for SlimTim and coffee and an energy bar for me.

Pilgrim, Day 2 Heading To Dicks Creek Gap

What a difference a day can make as we started hiking toward Dicks Creek Gap Mile 68.3.

SlimTim Day 2 March 12, 2017

Enroute,  SlimTim broke a trekking pole — the story of the broken pole is his to tell! (I won’t mention the clip on his backpack that I broke today!)  So, we have decided to spend the night in Hiawassee, Georgia.

At Dicks Creek Gap SlimTim got two new poles, his backpack repaired  (that’s another part of the story better told by Slim Tim).   They provided a shuttle to the Hiawassee Holiday Inn.  I know what you may be thinking, “they just got started!” — but did I mention that we are old and fragile, and need pampering after last night and today?

The shuttle driver told us that they are predicting single-digit temperatures in the mountains in this area on Wednesday.  We are now plotting and planning trying to figure out how to deal with this news.  Stay tuned!

Happy Trails,
Pilgram

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Carry On

Unicoi Gap, Georgia MM 52.9

Day 1  March 11, 2017
After a restful sleep at the motel in Helen Georgia, Catherine and Alice drove Pilgrim and I out to the trailhead at Unicoi Gap to begin our 2017 hike.  The weather today turned out to be very pleasant.   Although we had light sleet at various times we were both comfortable hiking.  There were a lot of climbs and descents and it looks like it will take a few days to get our hiking legs.  We saw probably 8-10 hikers on the trail but all but 2 were “day hikers”.  I was very jealous of their light knapsacks they carried on their backs. Lee and I are carrying around 34-36 pounds each.  This is a little less than last year as we’ve both figured out a few things that aren’t necessary.

After 11 miles we arrived at our campsite at Addis Gap.  We were tired and after fetching water, setting up tents, and eating, we took to our tents for the night as it started to rain and sleet.  We’ve been told we’re supposed to get an inch of snow tonight … we’ll see.

On the drive down from Nebraska, I ended up listening to a lot of classic rock on the radio.  You know how you can get one song that loops in your brain for hours or days after the music is turned off?  Stephen King calls these songs “ear worms”.  Well, my ear worm today happened to be Carry On by Crosby, Stills and Nash  —  no not “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas, although that would have been more appropriate!

Carry On contains the lyrics:

Rejoice,
Rejoice,
We have no choice,
But, to carry on.

I suppose this is more a metaphor for life more than hiking.  We do have some choices when to hike and not hike, but in any case, it was stuck in my head.  Maybe it was due to the “carry” part of the song.

Carry On,
Slim Tim

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One Step At A time, One Day At A Time

Packed and ready to leave Pilgrim’s place in Tennessee and drive to Unicoi Gap, Georgia.

As Lee mentioned in his previous post, we’re giving it another shot. I think it’s a combination of the restlessness of winter and the hint of spring that got me interested in trying this again. I’ve found that an elastic brace on my knee seems to keep the swelling down after a long walk. I’m hoping that our plan to do a short section hike will not cause the issues I had last year nor seem so overwhelming as the thru-hike would have been.

I wasn’t sure how Lee would respond to my idea of picking up the trail where I dropped off last year and hiking the section that he did solo, but he was up for it. I’m not sure how “up” I’d be to repeat a section I’ve already completed so I really appreciated his response!

Tomorrow we take off from Unicoi Gap with the intent to hike a bit over 100 miles traveling from Northern Georgia into North Carolina and finishing at the Southern edge of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.  Rain and snow are in the forecast for Saturday night and Sunday.  One day at a time.

Happy Trails,
Slim Tim

 

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On The Trail Again!

Fontana Dam

I received a call from my buddy “Slim Tim” a week or so ago. Seems like he’s heard the siren call of the AT and is ready to hit the trail again. Thanks to my understanding wife, I have agreed to do a sectional hike with him, from Unicoi Gap in Georgia to Fontana Dam in North Carolina. Hiking in sections is known by AT hikers as a Flip-Flop hike.

This will be a hike of approximately 100 miles. We plan to leave on Saturday, March 10, 2017 – exactly one year to the day that I came off the trail at Fontana Dam!

I am trying to lighten my load this time with a Big Agnes 1-person tent weighing 2 lbs 1 oz and a Back Country Quilt sleeping bag weighing 1 lb 14 oz. The sleeping bag has less insulation (thus cooler) than the 5-degree mummy bag I used last year. Sleeping was a problem for me last year and I am counting on this quilt and a nightly prayer to help me sleep.

Beef Jerky, Tuna, Ramen Noodles, Raisins, Nuts, and Chocolate! Let’s go!

I will try avoid using the same pictures from last year and I apologize ahead of time if you have a moment of Déjà vu.

Happy trails,

Pilgrim

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No Regrets and There Is No Place Like Home

March 15, 2016  Bobo Hollow Road, Tennessee

It’s hard to tell you … but my pursuit of a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail ended at Fontana Village (mile 164). For nearly three weeks I have been unable to get the sleep needed to continue this physically demanding hike. I hoped that my body would adjust to sleeping on the ground, in a sleeping bag, and the surrounding environment. But it has not happened and I feel it is unsafe to continue. I found that fatigue was beginning to affect me more each day.

I have been home for four nights and have slept soundly and restfully, without sleeping aids. My doctor has confirmed that there is no physical reason to prevent me from sleeping so it remains a mystery why I did not. Therefore, I am ending my hike. (btw – my stumble last Thursday produced a right ankle sprain that is healing quickly.)

It is very humbling to receive so much support from so many people. You have all been so kind and encouraging. I shared my thoughts on being out of my comfort zone while being on the trail.  But, that which was most uncomfortable was “separation “.  Separated from things that often are taken for granted in my everyday life; a moment shared with a loved one, enjoying time with friends, established routines, and the warmth of sharing a happy home with someone, I love dearly.   My beautiful wife has always supported me. She really is “the number one fan of the man from Tennessee!” Thank you, Catherine. And, while I may miss the challenge of climbing another mountain or a steep and challenging descent, I am glad to be home.👫

Off The Trail,
Pilgrim

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Stay Tuned …

My sister-in-law, Liz, posted a link on Facebook to an article titled “Doctors Tell Us How Hiking Can Change Our Brains”.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves,” wrote John Muir in Our National Parks. Clearly, John Muir understood the intrinsic value of spending time in nature.

Along with Muir, many of us recognize that hiking in nature is good for the body, mind, and soul. Walking through the woods while observing colorful birds and foliage, smelling the aroma of spruce and pine trees, and listening to a soothing running stream simply clear our mind and make us feel good.”

Sleep deprivation robs the senses of such enjoyment.  I made the decision today to return home to see my doctor and figure out why I’m not sleeping after hiking 12 to 15 miles per day!

I’ll keep you posted, 
Pilgrim

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